Philadelphia, PA – With Saturday night's race at Richmond International Raceway the last chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, eight drivers are fighting for the last spots available in the playoff field.
Nine drivers have already secured a top-10 position in the Chase, which begins on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson locked down their spots at Bristol, while Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick punched their tickets at Atlanta.
Hamlin clinched at least a tie for the top seed after winning his series-high fourth win of the season at Atlanta.
Tony Stewart, who is currently 10th in the point standings, has at least obtained a wild card position by virtue of his three wins this year. Stewart will grab a top-10 Chase spot if he finishes 14th or better at Richmond, regardless of any other driver's performance there.
Heading into Richmond, Kasey Kahne holds the first wild card position, while Kyle Busch occupies the second and final spot.
Kahne is the only driver outside the top-10 with two wins. He has yet to secure his position in the playoffs, but he will do so if Stewart is 10th or better in points following Richmond. If Stewart were to fall out of the top-10, then Kahne will clinch a spot with a 13th-place finish or better.
Five drivers who are outside the top-10 right now have one win for the season. They are: Busch, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. If any one of those single-win drivers takes the checkered flag at Richmond and Stewart remains in the top-10, or Kahne overtakes Stewart in points, that competitor with his second win grabs a wild card.
Otherwise, it's a mad dash among Busch, Gordon, Ambrose, Newman and Logano for a Chase berth.
"We're going with guns loaded ready to do battle," Gordon said. "This race is always intense, and I expect it to be a pretty crazy night."
Carl Edwards, who finished second in last year's Chase, and Paul Menard are those winless drivers outside the top-10 that have an opportunity to make the Chase with a wild card. Either one of those drivers has to at least win at Richmond to have any chance of qualifying for the 10-race playoffs.
Busch is currently 12 points ahead of Gordon in the wild card standings. After finishing sixth at both Bristol and Atlanta, Busch has moved back into the second wild card spot and therefore boosted his confident of making the Chase.
"I feel okay," Busch said. "I'm not saying I'm for sure going to be in at all. Anything can happen. Jeff is no slouch at Richmond either. He will be fine. I feel like he's the guy we're racing - the 24 car. We'll just have to see how it all plays out. Jeff could give us a run for our money."
Busch won the spring race at Richmond in May. He also claimed victories in the spring event there from 2009-11. Busch has yet to win the fall race at this 0.75-mile racetrack.
"Richmond is definitely a place where we would like to win," he said. "Obviously, that would really make things easy as far as getting us into the Chase. If we're not able to win, then we need to know what our game plan is going to be as far as staying ahead of Jeff."
Gordon can make the Chase if he finishes 13 points ahead of Busch at Richmond. He would also need Stewart to remain in the top-10 or Kahne to advance his point position from 11th to 10th or better.
"I'm not going into the race thinking that we've got to finish 12 positions ahead of Kyle. I'm thinking we have to win," Gordon noted.
Ambrose would have to at least finish 41 points ahead of Busch and 29 ahead of Gordon. Newman simply has to win if he has a shot at making the Chase. If Busch or Gordon were to replace Stewart in the top-10, then Newman is eliminated.
"We've got one chore to do, and that is to go into Richmond and get the win," Newman said. "We've done it before, and we can do it again."
If Edwards were to win at Richmond, which would snap his lengthy 58-race winless streak, he would need Busch to finish 24th or worse and Gordon place no better than 12th.
"We'll go to Richmond and go win that race and somehow maybe a miracle will happen," Edwards said.
Menard must win at Richmond and have Busch finish 24th or worse and Gordon place outside the top-12 in order to qualify for the Chase.
Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, September 8. Race: Federated Auto Parts 400. Site: Richmond International Raceway. Track: 0.75-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m.(ET). Laps: 400. Miles: 300. 2011 Winner: Kevin Harvick. Television: ABC. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.